The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Need a rise

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conan's picture

Need a rise

I'm a newby to baking, but am a rustic chef/painter/artist by nature.  I'm trying to make a good sourdough bread - but just can't get there.  Here's the deal....

I made a new starter 2 weeks ago which I discard/use and refeed every 2 days.  When refed, it bubbles furiously and doubles within 1-2 hours.  It also has a wonderful aroma (I live in the SF Bay Area) and tang!

But when I make my bread (using good artisan recipes), it never gets the rise I want/need, ends up very VERY dense, flattens out, and sometimes doesn't cook enough in the bottom middle.  The crust is beautiful, the outside rims are delicious, but a bit dense.  I think the problem is in the flour & technique (not the starter), but I need some help/input.

The last recipe I used came out the same.  The dough, when I was mixing, was awfully stiocky & gooey.  So gooey/soupy, you basically couldn't handle it.  I slowly added the rest of the flour in the recipe until it was handle-able.  But then while kneading, I added more flour (from the table top) just to keep the dough a bit more dry.  This seems to happen with each batch I make - UGH!! 

Should the dough be a sticky gooey mess?  If it is, will kneading it (and resting it) bring it together without adding more flour?  Doesn't the dough need to be elastic on the outside in order to hold shape while proofing? 

I have noticed that if I let the dough rise too long, or proof too long, I lose the dough (it reverts to goo).  So I know I've got some playing to do with time.  But I think the main thing is the flour - or over use of it.  Help?!?

LindyD's picture

Welcome to TFL.  Perhaps if you will give details on the recipe, some of the experts here can spot the problem. 

Adding more flour than the formual calls for will result in a dense crumb.  Whether the dough should be a sticky gooey mess depends on the recipe you are using and what techniques you are following.

It also sounds as if you are not baking long enough.  Do you use an oven thermometer to monitor your oven?   Do you use a baking stone? 

Your starter is pretty young - have you been feeding it every other day since you created it? I've gone a SD starter that is about a year old and I've found that I need it feed it every 24 hours for a few days before I bake (I keep it in the refrigerator) to give it enough gusto to do its job.

Sorry for all the questions...but the devil is in the details!





halfrice's picture

My starter is about six months old now and only until recently that I have settled into a routine. You said your dough was not rising enough. How much starter did you use as a percentage of the whole recipe and how long did you give it?

My daily bread (not sourdough) has a hydration of about 68%. The sourdough ciabatta I made last week had a hydration of 75%. It's sticky and goey at the beginning but after a few foldings, it wasn't a mess anymore. It had structure.

My oven is small compare to modern standards. I have in it 4 .75" thick 6"square terracota tiles. I usually turn my bread upside down for the last 10 mins to get an even bake.


Half Rice Half Woman 

gavinc's picture

Your problem is unlikely to be the starter, as what you've described is a fully active culture.  As pointed out by LindyD above there's a lot that can go wrong from that point on.  I can only get consistent results with my sourdoughs by careful control of temperature and strict compliance to a process that involves long fermentation.  My whole process is done around 24 degrees C.  My dough should be 24 when it comes out of the mixer, my bulk fermentation should be done at 24 C for 2 1/2 hours (includes folds at 50 min intervals), shaping, final proof for 2 - 2 1/2 hours at 24 C; then bung into the oven at 230 - 235 C for 40 minutes.  Don't be too concerned if you don't a lot of rise during final fermentation, as the oven spring is great.My favourite sourdough is Jeff Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough.  I make it with unbleached flour and 10% organic rye at 65% hydration.

Don't give up and try a different method than your current.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

yes, you did, now to deal with it. You wrote:

"...sometimes doesn't cook enough in the bottom middle."

That's it! You need more bottom heat! Right there under your loaf. It is a very important place to have heat by the way.  How can you accomplish that?  What can you do ?

Mini O

conan's picture

Again, I think the starter is fine & lively - fed every day (or every other), bubbles & doubles quickly, even some basic recipes have come out fine with a good rise & nice structure inside the loaf.  Here's the recipe I've been using....

Mix by hand/wooden spoon, 1c starter, 2c warm water (approx 90d), 4c flour.  not beaten, just roughly mixed.  loosely cover & let stand 8-24 hrs.  The result is an extremely thick "pancake batter", almost a good dough, with big lumps.  It's been very VERY hot here in SF (95d+ with our house at 80d), so I've tried letting it stand either 10 hrs or 18 hrs.

Next day, this big "sponge" is still breathing, doubled, bubbling.  To this sponge, add 1c flour, 2t each salt & a sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until you can't stir any more.  PUT A BIG ASTERISK RIGHT HERE!  The recipe says, add a little bit more flour if the dough is still wet, but err on the wetter side so the insides open up much more.  Coat hands in Olive Oil and knead this for up to 15 minutes to get air in.  Oil the bowl again, put the dough in the bowl, cover and let rise again (1-2 hrs or double).

Punch down dough after rising, knead very gently 2-3x, and cut into 2 loaves.  And then do the baking thing.

Back the the ASTERISK!!!.....  At this step, I have goo.  Paste.  A Super Adhesive.  I have to add an additional 1-2c flour just to be able to work with it!  IOt feels like I'm working with a sticky chocolate pudding consistency!  But then when I add more flour to be able to work with it, I get an extremely dense bread!

Any ideas/thoughts?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

First of all, Welcome to The Freah Loaf! 

Smile, Adhesives make great loaves!

Your discription is very informative.  By the time you get around to baking it, the dough is just pooped and tuckered out!   We need a few adjustments.

Lets break it down.  By mixing 1 cup starter, 2 c water and 4 c flour you are making a fair amount of starter (personally, I would blend it well).  When it peaks, wait half an hour and use it, don't wait the extra hours, the hour perameters (8-24) depends on your starter, if it is lively use it when it's ready, might even be less that 8 hours.  Take some out to continue the starter (1/4 cup) set aside to feed later and continue making your dough.

I knew when you wrote you added only one cup of flour, that that wouldn't be enough, chalk it up to your experience, you will need more.  Good so, the dough needs a feeding.  The sugar is optional.  So back to ASTERISK  and stir in salt and one cup of additional flour and sprinkle another half onto your table surface forming a little dam on the edges to hold back the dough, now pour it into the middle and start to knead by getting under the edges and folding them into the middle. 

Work around and eventually knead forming a soft dough ball.  Kneading does not add air but stretches and developes gluten in the dough so it should stretch nicely, add too much flour and this slows the developement.  (8 min is more than enough) Put it back into your bowl to rest.  (With sourdoughs, the punching down step is too brutal, forget it.  Gently de-gas is better.  Sorry to the book writers, some habits never die, times have changed.)  

Now would be a good time to check out the stretch and fold technique.  Let the dough rest until you see it rising and then plan on tipping it out of the bowl gently and stretching it out (de-gassing just happens) into a rectangular shape (lightly floured surface) and simply fold it over onto itself from all four sides. Roll over and put back into the bowl to rise a little more.  Doing this about every 40 min until the dough tightens up, and air bubbles develop inside the dough.  This may take 2 to 6 times depending on the moisture content of the dough.   

You will see the dough transform each time you do this.  When you think the dough is ready to bake, do a final fold, shape your loaf and let it rise.  Some let the dough rise upside down on a floured cloth in a bowl shaped  basket, then invert onto baking parcement for baking.  When the dough is ready it should be still stretchy and airy but not too soft, slash and bake. 

And get lots of heat under that loaf!  

Do you know the temp of your oven?  You might need to double check with a oven thermometer.  

Mini O

conan's picture

Funny thing that I'vbe been so fed up... I actually baked the goo (nice rustic looking shape), and it rose & tasted wonderful!  But I don't want to work with goo.

After I wrote the recipe to you, and started to compare it to others, I realized that the 1st step in this recipe was to make a massive starter sponge.  Nothing more.  I think with a bit more playing with times, kneading, flour, etc, I can make this one work for me.  That's because.....

While this was baking, a threw together a quick 1c starter, 1c H2O, 3.3c flour, little salt.  Mixed (and it looked "shredded"), kneaded with the throw/slap/fold technique like the French guy (Bentinet?), and then let it sit.  It had wonderful texture, elastic, and I could work with it!  And it almost doubled in 20 minutes!  I took it out, folded it, and let it rest some more.  Doubled again in 20 min!!!  I did this 3x, and I really think that I could have baked it right then and there without any proofing!  It just seemed to have tons of air!  But, I put it in the fridge for a cold rise and will work the rest tomorrow (shape/proof/bake).  I think this could be it.

If so, I know I can work the prior recipe with the "slack" dough & huge sponge.  Just time, technique, and maybe a tad more flour!

I'll let you know what happens.

Davo's picture

Your recipe seems like it exhausts the levain, adds only a tiny bit of new "food" in the final bread dough, then knocks all the air that the paltry new food has provided, then bakes directly with no potential for further rise. No wonder it's heavy!

My (starter: new flour/water) ratio (by weight) in the levain is about 1:3. So for two loaves, 150 g active starter, 190 g water, 300 g flour = Levain. This is mixed reasonably well (not kneaded, but no big lumps - otherwise your starter isn't right through the new flour/water) and sits for about 10 hours at around 70-75 deg F. If it were much warmer I'd decrease this time a bit.

Then for bread dough the ratio of levain: new flour/water is again around 1:3. So say 490 g levain (having taken back out the 150 g starter from the levain mix before adding the new ingredients), add 470 g water, 700 g flour, 20 g salt. Knead well (it should be sticky!), then stretch and fold for 3.5 hours at around 70-75 deg F, less time if warmer, with stretch and fold every 45 mins to 1 hr. Shape, prove a further 2-3 hours and bake, or shape, retard in fridge for anything up to 20 hours, take out to re-warm for about 1.5-2 hours and bake.

I'd say if it the shaped loaves truly double, it's likely over-proved. You'd rather bake it "on the way up" and get bursting oven-spring, rather than bake it at or past it's peak, and have an oven-collapsed flat thing.

For really sticky dough, try kneading by just holding in two hands and slapping the hanging bit down, using the adhesion to stick the bottom end to the bench, pull the top of the dough up in a stretch, and "throw" the top pf the dough off your hands over the bit that's stuck on the bench. Pick up with both hands on one side - I pick up to the right (this rotates the dough 90 degress) and repeat, and repeat etc. You will feel it tighten up and get less sticky and more springy, and even come away from your hands and the bench cleanly. You don't need oil or flour on the bench at all with this approach, and you USE the stickiness to advantage.

No punching down any time, the gentle de-gassing that gentle shaping provides is plenty.

conan's picture

Well... This sourdough came out Really Good!  Definitely better than the store bought, but I know I can do more.  And I know where I need to do things a bit differently to get the result I want.

Simple 1:1:3+ recipe (starter:water:flour), hard knead/slap/flip, rest, at least 3x fold/rise/rest, overnight in the fridge, back to room temp, gently shape, proof (but not too long!), bake hot with steam on preheated stone.  Looks great, tastes great, terrific crust!

I'm satisfied but eager for more.  Thx to everyone who helped & had input.  Thx to the Pain de Campagna(?) recipe on the homepage, and Thx to Chef Bertinet(?) and his video on kneading.  Once I come up with a killer bread, I'll send the recipe.

 First good breadFirst good bread

And the BubblesAnd the Bubbles